On Friday, the FCC announced a consent decree for violations of the requirements that TV stations provide at least three weekly hours of CORE programming addressing the educational and informational needs of children. The operator of eight TV and Class A TV stations in the southeast US agreed to make a $90,000 “voluntary contribution” to the Federal government and to adopt new practices to insure future compliance with the CORE programming requirements. The FCC had held up the license renewals of many of its stations as the licensee had claimed reruns of one-time programs as fulfilling the CORE requirements. As explained in the FCC’s Order, the FCC does not consider such programming to meet the requirements of the children’s television rules.
Under the rules, the FCC has the following requirements for CORE programming meeting the educational and informational (“E/I” in the language used by the FCC) needs of children:
(1) serving the E/I needs of children ages 16 and under is a significant purpose of the programming;
(2) the program is to be aired between the hours of 7:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m.;
(3) the program is a regularly-scheduled weekly program;
(4) the program must be at least 30 minutes in length;
(5) the program is identified as being specifically designed to educate and inform children through the on-screen display of the E/I symbol throughout the program;
(6) the educational objective and the target child audience are specified in writing in the licensee’s Children’s Television Programming Report; and
(7) the licensee must provide instructions for listing the program as E/I, including an indication of the age group for which the program is intended, to publishers of TV program guides.
In this case, the licensee was deemed to have violated criteria number 3 above – as its programming was not “regularly scheduled.”In the order, the FCC looked back at its adoption of the children’s television obligations to explain why there is the requirement for CORE programming to be regularly scheduled weekly programming. The Commission said that the regular schedule – generally at the same time each week – allows programs to reinforce messages and themes from week to week, which enhances the learning process. Thus, the programming is supposed to be different episodes of the same program over the course of the quarter, not repeated airings of one-off programs. In the case of this licensee, the FCC gave the example of three single-episode programs that were aired 89 times in the quarter being counted toward the requirement by the licensee.
While we have seen many FCC fines for the failure to timely complete the quarterly Form 398 Children’s Television Programming Reports (see for instance these cases, here and here, released in the last two weeks), cases where the E/I symbol was not displayed (see our article here) and some past arguments about whether certain regularly scheduled programming were sufficiently educational to meet the CORE requirements (see our article here), this is one of the few examples where the FCC has effectively fined a station for trying to meet its CORE requirements through programming that was not regularly scheduled. Obviously, stations need to review their children’s programming to make sure that they don’t fall into a similar trap.